Denver Police Detective Leslie Branch-Wise, who came forward last year to share what she saw as inappropriate texts sent to her by Mayor Michael Hancock during the 2011-2012 period when she was assigned to his security detail, has released another message she received from Hancock during that time. The text, seen below, juxtaposes a meme of what appear to be nearly naked African children dancing and the phrase "It's Friday Niggas."
Asked about the text, Hancock's campaign offered the following statement: "Mayor Hancock has no recollection of sending or forwarding this meme to anyone. His record on civil rights and racial equity is well known, and anyone who knows him well will attest to that."
According to Branch-Wise, she decided to share the image after the Hancock campaign attempted to make race an issue in the mayoral runoff by taking advantage of challenger Jamie Giellis's failure to remember the words represented by the letters NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), as well as the surfacing of a decade-old tweet in which she expressed curiosity as to why so many American cities have a Chinatown.
Giellis fired back in a news conference during which she accused the Hancock administration of fostering a culture of sexual harassment. Branch-Wise's name was mentioned at the press event, and it was also seen in a graphic showing city payouts: The detective received $75,000 related to alleged offenses committed by onetime Hancock aide and friend Wayne McDonald, who later settled a separate suit with the city for $200,000.
When asked if she believed Hancock was a sexual harasser, Giellis answered yes.
Branch-Wise voiced the same conclusion to Denver7, with which she shared the Hancock texts in February 2018, including one in which the mayor wondered if she'd ever taken a pole-dancing class. In response, Hancock released a video in which he apologized for his behavior but denied having crossed the line into sexual harassment.
In the clip, Hancock said, "I am here today to apologize for my own words from that time — text messages that were too familiar and unprofessional. But let me be clear: My behavior did not involve sexual advances or inappropriate physical contact."
He went on to say that "during Detective Branch-Wise’s time on the security team, we became friends, but my text messages in 2012 blurred the lines between being a friend and being a boss. Unfortunately, I didn’t know until just a few days ago that she felt our text exchanges were unwelcome and contributed to the pain and disrespect she was already feeling. But it is obvious now that she did feel that way. I sincerely apologize to Detective Branch-Wise. I apologize to my wife and family and to the people of Denver."
The text Branch-Wise is now unveiling is time-stamped on the evening of February 3, 2012. "I was disappointed and shocked that my boss, an African-American man, would send that to his employee, an African-American female," she says, adding that she's not sure if other people were copied at the same time.
Her reaction was connected to her upbringing, she adds: "I come from a very small but strong black family, and the word has always been and still is oppressive and offensive. It's a word that my grandfather and great-grandfather taught me to never use and how derogatory it is. I remember walking through a grocery store with my mother when I was at a very young age, and a Caucasian store clerk called my mother the N-word. To this day, I remember the exact store and the exact position the clerk was at and the exact facial expression my mother had — and how afraid that word made me feel. It just brought on fear."
Would it have made a difference to her if she knew Hancock meant it as a gag? "No, I don't believe so," she replies, "because at our age — me being almost 48 and the mayor probably being a little bit older [he's 49] — we come from a time when that word still had a lot of power and a lot of meaning and brought about a lot of fear for people of color. So for him to send that in a joking way, it isn't funny. It wasn't funny then, and it's not funny now. I understand that some of the youth of today don't know the history behind that word and don't care to know the history behind that word, but I do — and he should be sensitive not to offend by sending that. It's totally inappropriate."
She adds, "It doesn't matter if the N-word ends with an 'a' or an 'er.' It means the same thing, and it's equally offensive."
As for Giellis's NAACP gaffe, "I don't know if it was a lack of knowledge or if she was tired or if her brain didn't pick it up quickly enough," Branch-Wise says, "but it appears that the mayor wants people to believe that his opponent doesn't know what NAACP stands for. And it's very hypocritical to me that he uses the N-word so frivolously."
Branch-Wise doesn't reveal whether she favors Giellis or Hancock in the mayor's race. But in her view, "This is something the voters ought to know to put things into context. You have someone who makes negative comments about someone for not knowing something. But is it more egregious to know better but not do better, or to not know and possibly be taught?"
In 2015, AT&T president Aaron Slater was fired after it was revealed he'd sent the same meme pictured here. In the wake of that revelation, local activist Alvertis Simmons called for a protest outside the company's store in Cherry Creek, the Colorado Independent reported, asking customers to cut ties with AT&T. Today, Simmons supports Hancock's re-election.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.